Missouri Republican Sponsors Bill That Will Change Nothing

Things you can already do in the state of Missouri:

  • Privately read a Bible in school
  • Privately pray before a City Council meeting
  • Privately pray in public spaces

Things a newly proposed Constitutional Amendment (sponsored by Republican Rep. Mike McGhee of Odessa) would allow people in Missouri to do:

  • Privately read a Bible in school
  • Privately pray before a City Council meeting
  • Privately pray in public spaces

So why even bother with the legislation?

McGhee said he sponsored the legislation for five straight years because of a fear that government would use the separation of church and state as a reason to keep people from privately praying on public property.

“If voters approve this, it will send a message that the citizens of the state believe it’s OK to read a Bible in study hall,” McGhee said. “That it’s OK to pray briefly before a City Council meeting. That’s what we were trying to do by bringing this amendment forward.”

“This was such a meaningless amendment, we just didn’t feel like we needed to put forth the effort to stop it this year,” [Sen. Jolie Justus, D-Kansas City] said. “It doesn’t do anything at all, so I just decided to focus on trying to stop bills that actually do harm.”

I’ve never heard a church/state separation advocate or ACLU member try to shut down someone’s right to pray privately — in fact, that’d go against what they stand for. McGhee’s fear is unwarranted and this Amendment is a waste of time, whether the voters like it or not.

The Amendment had passed in the Missouri House 126-30 back in March and it passed in the Missouri Senate 34-0 on Tuesday. Voters will get to decide its fate in November, 2012. You can read the full text of the bill here.

Even though it seems like a certain victory for McGhee, Chad Garrison doesn’t think he’s going to be thrilled with the results:

We’ll see if McGhee continues to whistle that tune when — following passage of the amendment — a practicing Muslim dares to get on his knees inside the state Capitol and pray in the direction of Mecca.

I sincerely hope that happens.

Better yet, get a group of Muslims in there. And have them fight to lead those City Council invocations, too.

(What’s wrong, McGhee…? Is that not what you meant?)

I love the picture and caption that accompanies Garrison’s blog post:

(Thanks to William for the link!)

  • http://www.magpiesmarbles.com The Pint

    Better yet, get a group of Muslims in there. And have them fight to lead those City Council invocations, too.

    Why stop there? I’d love to see how McGhee would react to a group of Hari Krishnas opening up a council meeting with chanting and dancing, or a bunch of Wiccans invoking a goddess, or dancing around a Festivus pole during the holiday season – I imagine the ritual airing of grievances before a city council meeting would be highly entertaining.

    Sigh. Do these people ever stop to think that “prayers” and “rituals” extend beyond Christianity? Oh, wait…

  • http://denkeensechtna.blogspot.com Deen

    Doesn’t specifically signalling out the Bible (and not the Quran, the Vedas, The God Delusion or whatever) for special protection make it blatantly unconstitutional?

    But I guess since this law doesn’t hurt anyone (as it currently doesn’t protect anything not already protected by the current understanding of the first amendment), there will probably be no standing for anyone to challenge it in court (IANAL).

  • Silent Service

    It’s not useless to Rep. Mike McGhee. It lets him pander to the righteous far right without seeming too out of step with reality by trying to get school sponsored prayer (which would never fly).

  • http://hoverFrog.wordpress.com hoverfrog

    Well at least your tax dollars are being well spent, Missouri. :roll:

  • http://denkeensechtna.blogspot.com Deen

    @hoverfrog: yes, when politicians talk about reducing wasteful spending, they never think about increasing their own efficiency.

  • mike

    I don’t like it. It asserts a right to pray but not a right NOT to pray. It says that the state may not coerce participation but then says that the General Assembly and other govt bodies may offer invocations. It also extends school prayer to “corporate” student led prayer. So a group of students could begin class with a voluntary non-disruptive corporate prayers, as long as you stretch the definitions of voluntary and non-disruptive. I can imagine schools saying that students must be in their classes by X:00 and settle down for instruction to begin at X:02. It would be just like the trend in General Assembly prayer; “please be in your seats by 9pm and the meeting will start at 9:05″ and “that 5 minutes is there for … stuff”.

  • Daniel

    no student shall be compelled to perform or participate in academic assignments or educational presentations that violate his or her religious beliefs

    Sorry, Mr. Mehta, my religion forbids functions. :p

    I could easily see this being interpreted as a right to not pray. My religious beliefs are that prayer is a waste of time, so if an “educational presentation” begins with one, I can leave.

  • frizzlefrazzle

    In the newspaper article it states:

    It also says students shall not be compelled to perform or participate in academic assignments or educational presentations that violate their religious beliefs.

    What? So, MO kids don’t have to learn about evolution? Dang it, now I’m going to have to read this bill in full. As that little paragraph clearly worries me.

  • frizzlefrazzle

    Okay, there are just three parts of the bill that I question. Luckily, they were all together:

    that the General Assembly and the governing bodies of political subdivisions may extend to ministers, clergypersons, and other individuals the privilege to offer invocations or other prayers at meetings or sessions of the General Assembly or governing bodies; that students may express their beliefs about religion in written and oral assignments free from discrimination based on the religious content of their work; that no student shall be compelled to perform or participate in academic assignments or educational presentations that violate his or her religious beliefs;

    Okay, I guess just make that two parts that bother me. It looks, to me atleast, that this bill would allow them to have their silly invocations before a government meeting, along with allowing kids to not learn….well, science, if that goes against their religious beleifs.

  • gmarcotte

    that the General Assembly and the governing bodies of political subdivisions may extend to ministers, clergypersons, and other individuals the privilege to offer invocations or other prayers at meetings or sessions of the General Assembly or governing bodies; that students may express their beliefs about religion in written and oral assignments free from discrimination based on the religious content of their work; that no student shall be compelled to perform or participate in academic assignments or educational presentations that violate his or her religious beliefs;

    this part of the bill actually seems like it changes a lot, as it constitutionally guarantees rights that have been the subject of court cases, but now would axiomatically be accepted (how do you strike down a constitutional amendment as unconstitutional…?). namely it could be read to allow:
    1) official prayers to open any state gov’t meetings, with the particular religious preference seemingly at the discretion of the assembly (I wonder how many non-Christians we’ll see invited…)
    2) students to not actually learn major parts of the curriculum by claiming religious exemption, and not have their grades affected (which would probably be seen as compulsion) or any other negative consequence
    3) a student to submit a paper defending creationism, or young-earth theory, or for that matter, homeopathy or faith healing or psychics or whatever, and claim religious discrimination when they get a bad grade.

  • Richard Wade

    Teacher’s assignment:
    “Explain to your best understanding, the theory of evolution by means of natural selection.”

    Pupil’s paper:
    “In the beginning, there was the Word, and…”

    If the teacher gives the pupil an F, has he broken the law?

  • OverlapingMagisteria

    So if it were to get voted down by the public, would that mean that people would not be allowed to pray in private anymore? Looks like a no-win gamble that McGhee is playing…

    (Ok.. I know. That’s not the way the law really works. I can dream can’t I?)

  • Jim T

    There are some bad things in there about schools. You can’t be wrong if your beliefs say that 2+2 = 5

  • http://www.phoenixgarage.org/ cr0sh

    You can’t be wrong if your beliefs say that 2+2 = 5

    Discordianism FTW?

  • http://tech-o-potamus.blogspot.com hipopotamo

    We should encourage people who honestly belong to non-christian religions to start sending thank-you letters to McGhee and the senate for explicitly acknowledging their right to perform their religious rituals in public property: “Dear representative; I cannot start to tell you how excited I am as a Wiccan that my right to express my devotion is accounted for. I cannot wait to lead the invocation next summer with a prayer to Mother Earth …”

    Too bad we don’t have those debates here in my country.

    Cheers from the Hippo

  • Annie

    “It also says students shall not be compelled to perform or participate in academic assignments or educational presentations that violate their religious beliefs.”

    This is a slippery slope… and doesn’t seem as harmless to me as it does to Sen Justus. So, would these students not be required to learn national and state science standards? This could also have implications in history and language classes…

  • http://volunteer11.blogspot.com Vol-E

    Yeah, well, the sticking point is the word “privately.” What does that mean? To you and me, it means sitting with your bible and reading, or bowing your head silently. If that were all, I’d say “Who cares?” But evangelical fundies have this thing called “the great commission,” in which they sincerely believe they will lose their membership card and secret decoder ring to the Jesus Fan Club if they don’t go around yakking about it until your ears fall off or you sink to your knees and start “admitting you’re a sinner.” First you get to bring your bible to class. Then you get to stand up and talk about it for show & tell. Or ask your classmates if they’re “saved” because you’re “concerned about their soul.” To an e.f., this is equivalent to asking someone if they’ve seen a doctor about that mole. There’s no such thing as silent prayer to an e.f. — it doesn’t count if it’s silent. Too bad the bible starts with Genesis — we’d be better off if Matthew 6:6 could lead it off.

  • Rich Wilson

    Recall it was just a couple of weeks ago that David Barton told Jon Stewart that the FFRF was trying to ban people from praying. And Jon accepted that, and just passed it off as “people will sue over hot coffee”.

    Many Americans think that ‘the ACLU wants to ban prayer and crosses on churches’. All this bill does is enable that delusion by making them think there’s some reason to defend against that non-existent ‘threat’.

    I’d prefer a bill that also re-states a few other status quo, like “you are not required to say ‘Merry Christmas’” or “you are not required to pray before your meals”.

  • Jeff

    Garrison: We’ll see if McGhee continues to whistle that tune when — following passage of the amendment — a practicing Muslim dares to get on his knees inside the state Capitol and pray in the direction of Mecca.

    Hemant: I sincerely hope that happens.

    I’d be willing to pay someone.

  • Matt

    Many of you are missing the story here. The story is that this amendment clearly allows students to refrain from participating in any assignment that contradicts their religious views.

    no student shall be compelled to perform or participate in academic assignments or educational presentations that violate his or her religious beliefs

    Rather than changing science curricula, the religious right is now establishing a constitutional right for students to NOT EVEN HEAR teachings that would violate their religious views. This is far worse than any creationist attempt at adding subtle language in the science standards.

  • Brian

    When kids in stupid states receive dumb educations and cannot support their parents in old age, I think everyone gets pretty much what he/she deserves, eh?

    Since in this country we think kids are property of the parents, little will change until real education is mandatory for ALL American kids, using a national syllabus of considerable rigor. I think of France.

    You might argue that Missouri kids don’t deserve to have this done to them, but who deserves this feculent life, anyway?

  • Robin

    I thought that Repubs didn’t believe in the right to privacy?

  • Emma F

    See this Calvin and Hobbes comic, where it takes the “this curriculum is against my religion” thing to it’s logical extreme.

    I assume there must be legal standards to keep people from abusing religious discrimination laws like that but still, that part of the bill opens up a whole can of worms.

  • Yoav

    “This was such a meaningless amendment, we just didn’t feel like we needed to put forth the effort to stop it this year,” [Sen. Jolie Justus, D-Kansas City] said. “It doesn’t do anything at all, so I just decided to focus on trying to stop bills that actually do harm.”

    It’s a common trick, put some pointless but jeesusy amendment on the ballot to drive conservative voter turnout and help elect president Trump.


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